Adobe Anti-Counterfeiting: Feature or Bug?

By not disclosing to its users that it added technology to PhotoShop that helps prevent counterfeiting, the feature looked more like a bug. But Adobe's move raises deeper questions.

Adobe Systems got a bit of a black eye when the company recently acknowledged it complied with a request from government treasury officials to add a feature to its flagship PhotoShop graphics production software that blocks users from making copies of major international currencies.

The news has caused a considerable stir among PhotoShop users who encountered the glitch when they tried to copy and manipulate currency. PhotoShop blocked the scan and displayed a warning that counterfeiting is illegal.

Taken by surprise, users have been complaining on Adobe Internet forums about the companys readiness to insert technological restraints in its product—even if it is for the nominally laudable purpose of discouraging counterfeiting.

Whats disturbing is not so much that Adobe cooperated with the government to block currency copying, but that it did so without acknowledging the fact upfront.

If Adobe truly believes that preventing counterfeiting is an important corporate duty, it should have had the courage of its convictions and said so in its product announcements and documentation.

Its hard to see any benefit from withholding this information. Clearly it didnt take users long to discover the problem. Why remain silent if its clear that users are going to be confused and perplexed by what would seem to be a bug in their new $649 copy of PhotoShop?

Company officials indicated they remained silent because they didnt want to make it any easier for counterfeiters to find a way to thwart the restriction. But how would disclosure alone make it easier to devise a countermeasure unless the company also provided details about how it was done? Undoubtedly counterfeiters, like any other kind of hacker, are trying to find a way around the Adobe restriction.

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Adobe PhotoShops anti-counterfeiting feature.

In counterfeiting as in war, the adversary is always looking for ways to thwart the latest defenses. Digital imaging and printing technologies have given counterfeiters access to the most sophisticated tools they have ever had for churning out bogus currency.

That is why the government is redesigning U.S. greenbacks for the second time in less than a decade after earlier designs had remained in print virtually unchanged for more than 40 years.

The government certainly has an interest in trying to persuade imaging technology designers to build into their products features that make at least a modest effort to make counterfeiters work more difficult.

No doubt Adobe felt some pressure to be a good corporate citizen by voluntarily cooperating with the request. Voluntary measures are generally greatly preferable to action mandated by federal legislation. Adobe certainly didnt want to be singled out as a company that allows criminals to use their product to debase the national currency.

Next page: Where will Adobes covert measures lead?

John Pallatto

John Pallatto

John Pallatto has been editor in chief of QuinStreet Inc.'s eWEEK.com since October 2012. He has more than 40 years of experience as a professional journalist working at a daily newspaper and...